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How remote learning can help close the digital skills gap

2 Mar 2022

Hays’ Harry Gooding hears from two tech leaders about how remote learning doesn’t just help close the skills gap, but can benefit businesses’ bottom lines.

We’re currently witnessing unprecedented growth in the role technology plays, not just in the world of work but also in our everyday lives. As a result of this, more and more jobs are being created that require digital skills. However, the number of skilled candidates required to fill these roles is simply not high enough.

John Perks, global principal architect of the NextGen professionals programme at ServiceNow, and Simon Maskrey, senior global partner manager at Salesforce for Trailhead, discuss how their organisations are approaching the matter and their thoughts on why businesses will benefit from helping to close the digital skills gap.

Why are you reaching people and how?

Regarding the need for digital skills in the modern world of work, Maskrey points to a report from the World Economic Forum, which found that 50pc of all employees will need to reskill by 2025 in order to keep up with the state of change in technology.

Similarly, he also references a recent report commissioned by Salesforce from the International Data Corporation, where it identified that by 2026 there will be 9.3m new jobs that will require Salesforce skills.

Who can take these jobs? Through its NextGen programme, Perks explains how ServiceNow is looking at what some might consider alternative sources of talent. “We recognise that the people we now want to start employing don’t look at LinkedIn and aren’t visible to the existing talent agencies.” He highlights not-for-profits as having provided excellent candidates.

There is no right way to approach this, but both Perks and Maskrey see the benefit of readily available online content. The former notes that, at ServiceNow, “the training is somewhat traditional in that we still use a virtual classroom, but we’ve also taken those classes online to create an on-demand experience, with a combination of videos, simulators and the classic writing on screen.”

Maskrey comments how the pandemic forced a change of attitude toward teaching methods. “Outside of the US, there’s been a huge degree of resistance to remote learning and virtual classrooms until about two years ago … Until then there were a lot of people who perceived that you couldn’t learn online and that, for the best premium learning, you had to be in a room with people. I think the reality is that it just isn’t true.”

As a result of the lack of access to classrooms, as well as restrictions on travel, there has been a greater emphasis on remote learning. Maskrey continues: “It’s made it more affordable, flexible and justifiable and there have been a lot of positives.

“Our approach to that is to provide access to learning, irrespective of location, financial situation etc. Trailhead was launched to be free, flexible and to provide a solution for people to learn and grow at their own pace. The learning is delivered in bite-size chunks, so if you need to know how to complete a certain task or action, you can just go and learn how to do that.”

How can we close the digital skills gap?

“The only way we’re going to close the digital skills gap is by teaching people digital skills,” says Perks. However, he recognises that one of the biggest obstacles to overcome is not finding people who can learn, but those who are able to teach.

“One of the problems is that all the people that are good to train in digital skills are already extremely busy exercising their digital skills. We have to accept that we need to bring up those teachers – we need to engage them, develop the courses they’re going to teach and give them the opportunity to teach it.”

Maskrey expands on the idea of teaching and training, but again through online resources rather than courses that are less flexible. He lauds the “dual approach of actually providing information and teaching you what to do, but then you do it in a safe environment where you won’t pull down your whole company’s system!”

Besides that, he stresses the importance of “helping employers understand that they need to have a strategy, and that they are going to need to try to ensure that they are investing in growing and developing their people.”

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Getting companies behind employee learning

It’s one thing to say that organisations have the potential to close the skills gap, but another to persuade them to do so. What can be done to convince those companies that are reluctant to offer training opportunities to their workforce?

“A company has to see that when they’re investing in development that yes, there is a financial cost, but they’re investing in that person and their position in the company,” says Maskrey.

“It’s a waste of that investment if you lose that person by failing to develop or grow them. At the end of the day, if you are going to be investing millions and millions in technology but you haven’t got the people and learning strategy with it, then you’re going to be wasting that investment.”

Perks laments that businesses are slow to realise this. He suggests one solution, that 20pc of an employee’s time be devoted to learning, and offers an interesting example of why this approach benefits the business.

“If you’ve got a consultant and you train them to be a senior consultant, you can bill more for their services. Billing them at 100pc won’t yield as much as billing them at 80pc, giving them time to train and then billing 80pc at a higher rate.”

Perks adds that this increases the likelihood of retaining top talent. “When we already have employees within a company, we say a lot about their loyalty but we have to give them something to gain that loyalty. Improving their opportunities, prospects and value to us is one way to do that.”

Maskrey agrees, citing a LinkedIn workplace report that uncovered that 94pc of individuals would stay at their company if it invested in their personal development.

As well as upskilling, Perks also looks at how companies can reap the rewards of cross-skilling by adding a diverse range of views and experiences to their workforce.

“If you take somebody from the service industry and put them into the IT industry, they have a completely different view of the world that adds huge value. Cross-skilling, as well as upskilling, always has high value.”

When is the right time to upskill?

When it comes to the time to upskill, Maskrey and Perks are unanimous in their verdict.

“Any time from age 16 to age 66.”, says Perks. “There is no bad time to upskill. As an older person myself, I learn something new every day – there’s always an opportunity.”

Maskrey adds: “It should be a continuous activity. There’s never going to be a point where there are no more opportunities to learn.”

By Harry Gooding

Harry Gooding is the director of Hays Enterprise Technology Practice for the UK and Ireland. A version of this article previously appeared on the Hays Technology blog.

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